If you're going to call yourself a horror fan, then you've got to embrace every decade that horror has to offer. Some films age like a fine wine; sometimes I pick up a '30s horror film DVD, shake it around and hold it under my nose to smell the oaky freshness.
There are some people who refuse to watch a film if it's in black-and-white, and I find this baffling. Color isn't the essential ingredient for a good film! The most important elements are a good plot, innovative directing and compelling acting.
The following classic horror films have all of those ingredients and more. They've stood the test of time and are essential viewing for any self-respecting film fanatic. There are at least 10 more I could've added, but I finally whittled it down to these diverse slices of golden age horror. These aren't in any order, as all are equally worth seeing for one reason or another, so take my hand as I lead you down the pavement of horror history.
1. 'The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari' (1920)
Many consider this to be the first-ever horror film, and it's still pretty solid even by today's standards. The look of the film is what's most striking, with the dreamlike crooked sets and odd color tinting.
Despite the extremely limited budget, the paper sets actually help to give the film a unique and surreal look. It's classic German expressionism and at times the film feels like a moving painting. The plot, which concerns a murdering sleepwalker, is pretty interesting too and features a surprising twist that #MartinScorsese plays homage to in Shutter Island. It's essential and historical viewing for the horror genre.
2. 'Nosferatu' (1922)
The first vampire movie and still one of the greatest. Nosferatu borrows heavily from Bram Stoker's Dracula but it did invent the concept of sunlight being deadly to vampires. Max Schreck is iconic as the titular monster and leaves a lasting impression despite having barely 10 minutes of total screen time!
Nosferatu is a gorgeously gothic film and features some nightmarish imagery which still has the power to terrify audiences today. You could imagine what a shock it would be for wide-eyed audiences in the '20s to see this film. Nosferatu was actually banned in Sweden for its intense horror until 1972!
3. 'Frankenstein' (1931)
I could've put any classic Universal monster movie down, as they're all must-sees, but I think that ultimately Frankenstein is the most iconic and enduring of the bunch. There have been countless adaptations of Mary Shelley's novel, but I can guarantee that when you hear the words "Frankenstein," the image of a flat-headed Boris Karloff — complete with bolted neck — instantly pops into your mind.
Almost equally as iconic is Colin Clive's hysterical performance as the original mad doctor himself. James Whale directed many beloved horror films in the '30s (including Frankenstein's very own fabulous sequel, Bride of Frankenstein) but this is the one he'll be forever remembered for. It's a gorgeous, atmospheric and heartfelt piece of filmmaking.
4. 'Dead of Night' (1945)
Dead of Night is a British horror film and one of the first to popularize the anthology concept. It was made by Ealing Studios, which normally produces comedy films, but for some reason they decided to venture into horror — and what remains is an impressive example of anthology horror. There are a few forgettable segments, but the stories involving a haunted mirror and a possessed ventriloquist dummy are thoroughly entertaining.
There's also an odd story about a couple of golfers, which is played purely for laughs and is genuinely hilarious, although feels a little out of place. What's most remarkable though is the genius wraparound story which will have you scratching your head for hours afterwards. Dead of Night is perhaps the least well-known film on this list, but it is equally deserving of your attention.
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5. 'Les Diaboliques' (1955)
There's more than a touch of Alfred Hitchcock to this classic French thriller, which is funny because apparently director Henri-Georges Clouzot snapped up the rights to the original novel in a matter of hours before Hitchcock did. The novel was in safe hands though with Clouzot who created a suspenseful and stylish film about a pair of female murderers. It boasts a twist so shocking that the credits practically beg you not to give it away to anyone else. The ending features some masterful directing and haunting imagery which still has the power to induce nightmares.
6. 'Psycho' (1960)
Not just an essential watch for horror fans, but for pretty much everyone who loves movies in general. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho will forever be a classic thanks to its string of iconic scenes and surprising twists. The main character gets killed off halfway through — how's that for unpredictable? Everyone knows about the infamous twist ending now, but at the time it would've come as a massive shock to audiences. The actors didn't even know what the ending would be until it was time to shoot it.
This is a real masterclass in suspense and has all the ingredients for a terrific film: a great screenplay, absorbing actors, tremendous directing, memorable music and the first flushing toilet on film.
7. 'Eyes Without A Face' (1960)
Another French fancy about a mad doctor trying to find a new face for his disfigured daughter. This film contains quite a shockingly graphic surgery scene which caused seven audience members at the Edinburgh Film Festival to faint!
The film is visually beautiful, though, and extremely suspenseful. Edith Scob even reprised her role in Leos Carax's barmy Holy Motors by wearing the same memorable face mask from this film. Eyes Without a Face is a fantastic fairytale which must be seen by serious horror fanatics.
8. 'The Innocents' (1961)
Deborah Kerr shines in Jack Clayton's classic adaptation of The Turning of the Screw. She stars as a nanny taking on a couple of posh children in a beautiful mansion, which is of course haunted and hides a multitude of sordid secrets. The Innocents still has the power to creep audiences out now with its haunting imagery of ghosts in reed bushes and behind dark windows. It's a very involving and atmospheric film which set the benchmark for all haunted house takes. The story also has some surprising twists and ends on a wonderfully disturbing note, which stays with you long after the credits roll.
9. 'Whatever Happened To Baby Jane' (1962)
Bette Davis didn't really act in Robert Aldrich's genius tale of a faded star tormenting her paraplegic sister, Joan Crawford. The stars famously hated each other, so when Bette kicks Joan in the head, she is actually kicking her in the head. The film is a masterpiece of camp. Not only is it disturbing, it's darkly hilarious and has a tragic undercurrent throughout, which erupts rather beautifully in the unforgettable finale. The acting is magnetic and the film looks gorgeous. Originally the film was to be shot in color, but Bette refused, saying that it'd just make a sad story look pretty. I agree.
10. 'Carnival Of Souls' (1962)
An independent American film which bombed at the box office but has since been rediscovered and deservedly become a cult classic. Its surreal imagery is reminiscent of David Lynch and the creepy plot is similar to Roman Polanski's Repulsion. It's about a woman slowly descending into madness after rejecting the world around her, including a seriously annoying neighbor who relentlessly tries to get her in knickers.
Carnival of Souls is a strange spook-fest which grabs you by the throat and draws you into its peculiar world. The acting isn't the best and the production values are very shoddy, but it's definitely a must-see thanks to its nightmarish imagery.
Hopefully I've given you something to pop onto your watch-list. Or perhaps you've seen them all? Great, that means that you're a hardcore horror fan who has got their priorities right! What other old horror films are must sees? Also, check out these 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 20th Century: